Blazing new trails

From South Jersey Trails to Berlin Boy Scout Troop 48 to family, Mike McCormick is all about adventures

South Jersey Trails founder Mike McCormick and his son, Abe, 5, walk down a trail at Berlin Park.

When Mike McCormick started South Jersey Trails, he expected a few friends — maybe even his mom — to read the blog highlighting his outdoor adventures. He also thought the project would take about six months. After all, how many trails could there be in South Jersey?

That was four and a half years ago, nearly 25,000 blog visits ago and 130 trails ago. Turns out, not only did McCormick’s project have a much wider appeal than he originally expected, but South Jersey is chock-full of places to hike.

The inspiration for South Jersey Trails was borne out of necessity for McCormick. He wanted to take his then 1-year-old son hiking to both give his wife a break and give himself a chance to be outdoors with his kid. After he searched for books on local hiking sites, he realized there was a problem. It was easy to find books highlighting hiking in North Jersey, but for down south?

“I couldn’t find any good books,” McCormick said.

At first, the Voorhees native (he now lives in Barrington) thought he’d write a book. He quickly put aside that idea — “too much work,” he laughed — and decided to launch the blog instead.

He currently has 100 trails on his to-do list, and, he says, thanks to a growing South Jersey Trails Facebook community (there are almost 3,000 members), he learns of new trails every week.

One of the biggest surprises? South Jersey hiking is just as impressive as the mountains in the northern part of the state.

Mike McCormick

“I didn’t expect South Jersey to rival them in beauty, but they really do,” McCormick said. “It’s just a different kind of beauty.”

McCormick’s favorite local trail is the Batona Trail, a 53-mile hike through the Pine Barrens, making it the longest trail in South Jersey.

“There’s a seven-mile stretch through the Franklin Parker Preserve,” McCormick said. “That stretch is my favorite of all the trails in South Jersey.”

Berlin Boy Scout Troop 48

McCormick’s love of adventure and hiking started long before South Jersey Trails, and his involvement as a kid with the Boy Scouts unquestionably helped those interests take root and grow.

McCormick is a 2000 graduate of Eastern Regional High School. When he was a student at Voorhees Middle School, Vice Principal Gary Lake was the Berlin Troop 48 Scoutmaster. At Lake’s suggestion, McCormick joined, and he stayed with the troop through becoming an Eagle Scout.

Fast forward a few years, and McCormick returned in 2009 — but this time as Scoutmaster himself. At the time, the troop went from 130 kids to about 12, with only five of those Scouts actually active. When McCormick heard the troop had dwindled, he wanted to help — a trait instilled in him through Scouting.

“This troop is too special (to lose),” McCormick said. “I had such a great time in Scouts. I wanted kids to have that, too.”

He’s only the fourth leader of the 52-year-old troop, and he credits his involvement with Scouts and why he returned as Scoutmaster to Lake.

“As far as I’m concerned, Gary Lake was the greatest man who ever lived,” McCormick said. “Gary had two kids in the troop, but he really had hundreds of kids.”

Troop 48 is special, McCormick said, and does things a little differently than most troops.

For one, their uniform is a purple T-shirt and camouflage pants, unlike the button-down khaki uniforms many Scouts wear. The original Scoutmaster, Joe Derr, chose the purple shirts because “no one else would wear them,” and in 1964, McCormick said he was exactly right.

The troop also does not take part in a summer camp. Instead, they take a week-long trip together every summer, such as the Catskills this year.

McCormick said the troop has few transfers from Cub Scouts — most of the Scouts are outside kids who join up. All kids are welcome and encouraged to take part, another aspect of the troop passed onto McCormick through Lake.

“Anybody is welcome,” McCormick said.

This fall, McCormick will be starting Berlin’s first Cub Scout Pack, giving a chance for his oldest son to get into Scouting, too.

The adventure of family

“I’m definitely one of those people who, if I won the lottery today, I would never be bored a day in my life,” McCormick said. “There’s too much to see and do.”

He’s a huge fan of local history, photography and reading. He reads, unsurprisingly, mostly historical books, and his favorite is “Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey” by local historian and former Courier-Post reporter Henry Charlton Beck.

“He writes like a reporter,” McCormick said. “He doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

McCormick shares his adventurous spirit and love of history with Alix, his wife of six years, and the couple is passing these passions on to their three children, 5-year-old Abraham Lincoln, 3-year-old John Muir and, their youngest, Benjamin Franklin born on July 7. Both majored in history in college, and McCormick now teaches history — among a few other subjects — at St. Cecilia School in Pennsauken.

Starting a family didn’t slow down their travel. When Abe was not quite 4 months old, he drove around Ireland with his parents. When he was 2 years old — and brother John was 3 months — the McCormicks took the “Abraham Lincoln road trip,” traveling to Shenandoah National Park, the Smokies, Mammoth Cave National Park and visiting homes of the nation’s 16th president in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Every summer they travel.

“I want my kids to have the same opportunities that I had as a kid. My dad would take us to interesting places,” McCormick said. “Just to be able to read something and say, ‘I know what that looks like because I was there.’ To me, that’s really valuable.”

McCormick and Alix have seen 29 national parks and, one day, they hope to see them all.

Until then, McCormick will continue exploring South Jersey.

“At the end of the day, it’s a great excuse for me to go adventuring and see new places,” McCormick said, “and it’s a good excuse for me to spend time with my kids outside on a regular basis.”

To learn more about South Jersey Trails, visit https://southjerseytrails.org or www.facebook.com/southjerseytrails. To learn more about Berlin Boy Scout Troop 48, visit http://troop48berlin.org.